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Episode 139 — Sony Pictures Animation — Ovi Nedelcu
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 139! I’m speaking with Ovi Nedelcu, a Storyboard Artist for Sony Pictures Animation, as well as Sony, DreamWorks and many more. Ovi is a really talented guy who’s put out a lot of great work. He typically works on custom books as well.
I’ve had a few guests who are also in Portland. I think it’s cool that there is diversity in terms of location and the fact that a lot of us get to work remotely these days. We get into that in this Episode as well as his artwork and process.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
I. [-36:03] Right now, I’m in LA. I will be heading to Vegas for a business hangout and brainstorming with a couple of film directors from LucasFilm and other places. We thought it would be cool to do some live streams. If you aren’t currently following me on social media, I’d suggest doing so because there will a lot of valuable content. It’s a chance to get some exclusive content.
– Allan McKay’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allanfmckay/
– Allan McKay’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/AllanFTMcKay/videos
– Allan McKay’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/allanmckayofficial/
Another way to find me is to Google my social media.
II. [-34:37] Next week, I will be putting out some free training. A lot of people inside of my Mentorship suggested this particular content.
III. [-34:15] Finally, I will be opening up registration for my next FXTD Mentorship Course for 2018. So keep an eye out. Feel free to sign up for my VIP Insiders List at www.allanmckay.com/inside/.
INTERVIEW WITH OVI NEDELCU
Ovi Nedelcu is an Author, Illustrator, Character Designer and Storyboard Artist.
After studying at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, his very first job was at Warner Bros. Since then, he’s worked for such studios as Disney, Sony Pictures Animation, Bluesky and Laika Studios. His credits include Mary Poppins Returns, Coraline, Scooby Doo and many, many more.
Ovi has illustrated and authored several books. His latest author illustrated book One Gray Mouse was released on April 24th (https://www.amazon.com/One-Gray-Mouse-Ovi-Nedelcu/dp/0999818104/ref=la_B00CSUFROE_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525148954&sr=1-3).
In this Podcast, Ovi talks about building his portfolio while in art school, learning on his first job at Warner Bros; working remotely and the importance of being a well-versed freelance artist.
Ovi Nedelcu’s Website: http://www.ovinedelcu.com/index.html
Ovi Nedelcu’s IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2175812/
Ovi Nedelcu on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ovi-nedelcu-029aa94/
Ovi Nedelcu’s Books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ovi-Nedelcu/e/B00CSUFROE
Ovi Nedelcu on Twitter: @ovinedelcu
[-33:56] Allan: Just to start out, do you want to quickly introduce yourself?
Ovi: Sure. My name is Ovi Nedelcu. I currently live in Portland, OR. I’m a freelance Visual Development / Story Artist / Character Designer. So, I kind of bounce around here and there, depending on where a job comes up or where it leads me.
[-33:36] Allan: That’s awesome! How did you get started? Did you always want to do art as a kid, or did you discover it later on?
Ovi: I think like most kids, I was always doodling and drawing. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school when I started to realize that I was better at it than most kids. I had a couple of buddies who were interested in doing comic books and illustration as well. We kind of grouped together and learned from each other, and started to really advance and realized there was a career in this, if we put our minds to it. I guess it was high school when I realized I could do this for a living. I went from there and started to research how to go about it, what kind of job I could have. Originally, I wanted to do books and comic books. Because it all involves visual storytelling, it lead me to storyboarding, kind of by accident though. I wasn’t looking to get into animation at first. I first saw it as a way to learn and do my own books. Once I got into it, I realized so much of it was about visual storytelling. I ended up loving it and continuing to do it. I’m still doing it to this day.
[-31:46] Allan: That’s really cool! When you’re trying to research a career, were there a lot of resources at the time?
Ovi: Ah, not really! We had the internet back then. But this was back in 1999, I want to say. It was basically a word of mouth or reading stuff in books and magazines. I used to go to conventions, as well as talk to the industry experts and pros. They were the Google search of the industry back then. A lot of insight scoop.
[-30:54] Allan: The internet is a great resource, but in terms of conventions, it’s definitely ruined that! Before you would have to go somewhere to immerse yourself. These days, fewer people go and there is less contact. So you would meet people at these events?
Ovi: Yeah. I’m guilty of that as well, I haven’t been to a convention in quite a while. The last one I went to was the CTN Expo down in LA. That was 3 years ago now. For what I’m doing now and with my family, it’s kind of hard for me to get out. Because of social media and stuff, you can still get the vibe of it; do a lot of it online. It’s nice to go there in person, I just always have to weigh it against my schedule and what’s going on in the house.
[-29:38] Allan: Are you originally from Portland? Where are you from?
Ovi: I pretty much grew up in California. We came here from Romania when I was one and we migrated from New York, to Chicago, to Arizona, LA to Sacramento. I spent most of my childhood in Sacramento. I went to the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, right after high school. From there, I got a job offer at Warner Bros, so I moved down to LA; and I was studio hopping for about 6 years before I moved to Portland, OR.
[-28:51] Allan: I’m curious, once you graduated from the Academy of Art, was it easy for you to get into the industry? Or was it a bit of a struggle?
Ovi: Not really for me. I actually never graduated from my art school. I planned to, but halfway into it, I got a job offer from Warner Bros. I had to make a choice to keep paying the tuition. When I went to art school, I went into it not to get a degree but get my portfolio built. I went about it a bit differently. The norm was that students would take 3 art classes and 2 academic classes, to balance things out. The art classes had such a heavy work load. I would just take all art classes. I was just trying to build a portfolio.
[-27:32] Allan: Obviously, your portfolio is everything. I shows what you can do. There is not piece of paper that’s going to qualify you to a client or a director. They want to see what you can do for them.
Ovi: I feel exactly the same way! Somebody can have zero education or art school, but if they know how to draw and observe life, that’s all they care about it. They can learn some of the tricks of the trade on the job. It doesn’t take very long to get around and learn some of the lingo. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting that portfolio built and that’s what I’ve been telling some kids that I know who are learning art. Think of it more like a trade school. You’re trying to build your portfolio and learn your craft. You aren’t necessarily going to a general university until you figure out what you want to do. It’s fine to get that secondary education, but it’s really expensive! So if you’re going to go for it — go for it!
[-25:48] Allan: So, in the first couple of years of your career, what kind of projects were you working on?
Ovi: Um, let’s see. When I first started, I got a job at Warner Bros. It was a pretty unique situation. I went to a comic book convention in Oakland, looking for comic book work. One of my friends was telling me that Warner Bros had a booth there and I should show them my portfolio. I was hesitant. I didn’t know much about animation. He eventually convinced me to do it. It was actually Shaun McLaughlin, the Associate Producer for Batman, the animated series. He liked my work enough to give me a test. Of course, I failed the test. It was about doing a bunch of turns, orthographic views, stuff like that. Lots of technical stuff. I just wasn’t up to speed. What he did do is show my work to their development department there. They really liked it and they flew me down. It was kind of surreal. They went over a bunch of shows they were developing at the time. They put me into the development department — which was great!
[-24:05] Allan: There is definitely no in-between-ing stuff!
Ovi: Yeah! It was a pretty surreal experience. I took it for granted, I wasn’t aware of how stuff worked in the studio structure, the politics of everything. I just [thought] I’d work on this stuff for a few months and then get back to the comic book stuff and illustration. While I was doing it, I started to love it. [I realized] you could do character work and story boards, visual development. It fit with what I was doing already. I didn’t really know too much about how it worked in animation. Once I got into it, I saw the similarities. I learned on the job. I pretty much spent every night after everybody left — after a year and a half — xeroxing model sheets and amazing pieces of art, trying to learn as much as I could. It was definitely a university after hours for me.
[-22:51] Allan: Did you find that many people had the same obsession? I find that some people just go in and do what they’re told. Obviously, there are some of us who really go the extra mile.
Ovi: I always had a drive to get as good as I [could be]. I’ve always had a drive to learn. But I think I also felt like a fish out of water: I didn’t know a lot of the lingo, terminology. A lot of these guys were seasoned professionals and I felt I had a lot to prove. I wore that [chip] on my shoulder a bit. I felt I really had to excel as much as I can, to blend in. You also get better with so much amazing artwork around you. This is pre-Google search. Nowadays you can just type in “Batman animated model sheets” — and you get hundreds of model sheets. It used to be within the studio walls. It was a little bit like going into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, sort of speak. I tried to take advantage of it as much as I could.
[-20:54] Allan: I think that’s really cool. For you storyboarding is something you’ve stumbled into. What is about storyboarding that makes you passionate? Is it having more of an input or a closer relationship with a director?
Ovi: For me, what it comes down to — is telling the story visually, be it through story boarding or sequential art like comic books, or through picture books with just spot illustration. It’s just the art of communicating a story through pictures, I’ve always enjoyed doing that. When I started, I was doing more of a character development and design. I was always doing comic books on the side. I thought it wouldn’t be too much of a jump into storyboarding. I eventually started asking around to maybe give me a test. They would do that and I tried it. It wasn’t something I was struggling with. It was more about fine tuning. And I’m still learning. A lot of storyboarding has changed from the days of pinning up 50 boards to tell a sequence. Now it can get up into the thousands where you feel like you’re [actually] animating the shots. You have to convey the feeling to the directors. It’s not as loose and vague as it used to be.
[-18:22] Allan: I think it’s cool when you get directors who are very visual. Not to the extent where you’re making a flip book. Think of The Matrix where they pretty much created a graphic novel before they even go into pre-production. A lot of people would be like a kid in the candy store.
Ovi: I also think there is a balance. I know storyboard artists who animated his boards. I can’t do that! I’m not an animator, that’s not what I do. I try to limit the posing as much as I can. That’s not my job. My job is to compose a shot, make sure the story point is communicated, and the expression of the character is communicated. There is a point where it gets too much.
[-16:44] Allan: You’ve also had a pretty long history with Laika as well. How did that come to be? [And actually], why did you move to Portland in the first place?
Ovi: When I was living in LA, I met my wife there. She was visiting from Portland. We hit it off and realized we’re long distance. After we got married, she moved down for 2 or 3 years until we had our first child. I finished a project at Sony. I also told her we would eventually move to Portland, I was just trying to figure out how I would make a living up here. I did some research and found out there were a couple of animation studios up here. Technology was getting up to speed and I realized I could probably make it work because of the cost of living. To live up here was pretty cheap in comparison to LA. We took a chance and just moved up. At the same time, Henry Selick had just moved up here to start working on Coraline, for Laika Studios (which wasn’t named that back then). He heard I moved up here. He gave me a call. It was pretty awesome, it was a pretty small team. From there, I went on to the next project which was Coraline, and then went on from project to project afterwards.
[-14:25] Allan: Do you get any resistance when you pitch working remotely? Especially where you are at in the pipeline, is it feasible?
Ovi: Um, I’d say it was a little hard when I first started doing it from here. The internet connection wasn’t as fast and you weren’t able to do the video conferencing. You had to communicate over the phone and then send the work back to them. And I think most of my freelance work back then was character design work. It’s not as involved as storyboarding is; where you need the one-on-one in the room to communicate and pitch your boards. That was fine. It had it’s limitations; but as the internet got faster people got more comfortable with freelancing. The pushback went away. It slowly evolved into what it is now.
[-12:52] Allan: What are some of your favorite projects to date? Obviously, you’ve worked on a lot.
Ovi: My favorite projects to date? [Kubo and the Two Strings] was great. I really liked working on Kubo. It was fun! All the Laika projects were really fun to work on, Coraline was great. It was very cool to see all the stop motion sets built. It was my first experience with stop motion. That was very cool! I recently finished on Mary Poppins Returns. That was really cool too!
[-12:17] Allan: Who was that for?
Ovi: That was for Disney. I think the movie comes out this December.
[-12:09] Allan: What about your personal projects? I think it’s really cool that you were able to go for what you originally set out to do, begin to create your own book. What has that experience been like?
Ovi: It’s been a lot of fun! Right now, my main focus is doing picture books. When I first started to get into this as a profession, I always wanted to be a book artist / comic book illustration. It’s come a full circle now. I really enjoy illustrating, so I feel like picture books are the best genre for that. I write because I have to, not because I enjoy it that much. The less words, the better for me. So I enjoy doing picture books now.
[-11:00] Allan: That’s cool! How did you get started with that initially? For your own personal stuff, it’s always going to be a bit of a “I’ve got the talent and the idea, but how do I get it to be a reality”. For you, was it a bit of a learning curve?
Ovi: Um, yes and no. I’ve always been into it, reading up on it, learning about it. I was more or less familiar with how it worked. When I first started doing it, it was mostly for comic books. So I would go to conventions and get work that way, and also made contacts with image comics. I eventually pitched a comic book series that I wanted to do through them, called Pigtale. We worked on that for a couple of years. From that, I got a pretty good understanding of the publishing world. It was something I could learn, the ins and outs of that world. I started doing research on picture books publishing as well. I had a few friends who pointed me to a few resources and things to read. I originally sent out some query letters to get an agent. I realized some illustrators had those. I got my first authored book which was called Just Like Daddy done through Hardcore Publishing in 2015. Prior to that I did some comic book work and short story. I think my blog and comic books got the attention of some of the editors, from the picture book industry. So I did some tie-ins, like Shrek and Puss in Boots.
[-08:24] Allan: With those one, what was that like dealing with some of the well known IP? Was that a different vibe for you?
Ovi: Yes and no. One of the criteria I had was that I would do it in my style, not following model sheets. That’s not the type of thing I’m really interested in — and probably not that good at either. So that’s always been one of my criteria. Thankfully, the reason they wanted me to do that books was because of my work. They wanted me to interpret those characters through my style and taste.
[-07:32] Allan: You were talking about pushing yourself more than others, staying late after work. These days, having your own rhythm and having family, what are some of your routines, running a business from home? Do you still try to do your personal work? Do you have a lot of habits to keep you structured?
Ovi: Yeah, it’s becoming increasingly harder to do that.
– I still try to get up and before I start before I do any of my commercial work, I try and sketch in my sketchbook for at least 10-15 minutes, to warm up that way.
– I try and read as much as I can.
– After the kids go to bed, I try to spend some time with my wife. It’s obviously the most important part to keep my relationships alive and thriving.
– If she’s off doing her own thing — she likes to do music — I’ll sit down and try to come up with some stories.
It becomes harder when your life becomes busy. My thing is that if I have a creative bug that I need to fulfill, I try and get up early, while everyone is sleeping and it’s peaceful around the house.
[-05:09] Allan: I’m just curious: What’s “early” for you?
Ovi: Early for me is around 6:00 a.m. I usually get up around 7:00 anyways. If it’s something I need to work out, I’ll spend my breaks and lunchtime doing that. I think it’s important to keep that alive. I actually get a lot more work too. I can bounce back and forth between vis dev, character development, storyboarding. I can do picture books and comics. It’s good to be well versed if you’re going to be a freelance artist. If you’re a great character designer, once a project dries up, you have to scramble for work. But if you have a few regular clients [in different fields], you can always tap into these different places when things get slow.
[-03:36] Allan: That’s really great advice. Your latest project One Gray Mouse came out on April 24th?
Ovi: Oh, yeah! One Gray Mouse is my latest author illustrated book. It comes out April 24th. It’s something that I started working on five years ago. I just came back to it this year and it’s been nice to get this one done. I didn’t really have an ending for it.
[-02:49] Allan: One word: Mouse trap!
Ovi: The book is about hope — and believing that life can change for the better. I think I love concept books that are fun and cute. But there was something I wanted to say with this book and encourage younger readers to always have hope and never lose it. That’s really important in times when things seem hopeless.
[-01:55] Allan: This has been really great! Where would people go to find you online?
Ovi: They can go to my website: www.ovinedelcu.com. I also have Instagram and Tumblr. My website has links to my social media as well.
[-01:29] Allan: This has been really awesome! Thank you for taking the time to chat.
Ovi: Anytime, man! Thank you!
I hope you enjoyed this Episode. Thank you, Ovi, for doing this one. I had a blast!
Next Episode will be with Catherine Mullan who is the Animation Sup at MPC. She’s worked on Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men, Maleficent, and so many other things!
Please leave a review on iTunes for this Episode, if you’d like. Until next time —